Clausewitz stated that war is the continuation of politics by other means. But in the present epoch peace is also the continuation of war by other means. Long after the last shot was fired in the war in Iraq, the game of diplomatic power politics continues unabated. At the time when Putin backed America's "war against terror", Washington hinted - to general surprise, that Russia could soon be allowed to join the World Trade Organisation. Following China's accession to the WTO, Russia is the last major trading nation not yet to have gained admission to the international trade body.
President Vladimir Putin's government is very keen to join the WTO. It sees accession to the world trade body as a key step in Russia's transition from a nationalised planned economy to a capitalist "free market" one. The enthusiastic "free marketers" in Putin's cabinet, among them Economy Minister German Greff, see the run up to joining the WTO as an opportunity to push ahead with capitalist reforms in key areas such as customs regulation and other areas.
Until now, the Russian government has maintained that it wanted to conclude accession negotiations this year even though few people thought it was feasible. At the beginning of April Medvedkov told Reuters it was still technically possible to complete the talks by the end of 2003. Yet Russia is still denied admission to the rich man's club. Russia's chief trade negotiator Maxim Medvedkov recently said there was now no chance of Russia gaining admission to the WTO in 2003. Why?
As we predicted, the détente between Russia and America would not last for long. The underlying antagonisms flow from a real conflict of interest on a global scale. The US imperialists took advantage of Moscow's weakness to establish themselves in Central Asia and increase their presence in the Caucasus. They hope to get their hands on rich oil reserves of the Caspian and box Russia in with a string of American client states. This has set the alarm bells ringing in the Kremlin.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have cooled considerably as a result of Putin's negative attitude to the war on Iraq. The reason for this is obvious. Russia has obtained no tangible benefits from its attempt to conciliate America. In Iraq, the considerable interests of Russian oil companies are directly threatened by the Anglo-American occupation. That explains its initial refusal to accept the resolution to the UN Security Council proposed by the Americans and British. In retaliation, America is obviously using Russian entry into the WTO as a bargaining chip to force Moscow to accept its domination of Iraq. This clash heralds a new and stormy relationship between Russia and America.
After seizing control of Afghanistan, US imperialism has established itself in Central Asia. International military manoeuvres with the participation of NATO subunits recently took place in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Now America is spreading its tentacles into the Caucasus. NATO (that is, America) is attracted by the region's growing strategic importance as an energy export corridor. For the last year, Georgia has relied heavily on US military assistance to reorganize the Georgian army. Georgia has signed an agreement on cooperation with the United States in the defence sphere, which foresees the stationing of American soldiers near Russia's border, and Eduard Shevardnadze long ago spoke about the preference of a settlement of conflicts using NATO forces in the Caucasus based on the Kosovo scenario.
Just days before Robertson's visit, the second Georgian battalion completed a US-sponsored programme, known as train-and-equip (GTEP) programme. At present, there are about 1,200 Georgian soldiers that have undergone training with US military advisors, with an additional 1,200 to be trained by mid-2004 under the $64-million programme. This is proving ruinous to the Georgian economy. Despite US assistance, the defence budget for the current fiscal year is funded at only 60 percent of the projected expenditures. In Georgia, as everywhere else, the slogan of the day is: Guns instead of butter. This ruinous policy is being encouraged by Washington - and it is directed against Russia. The war in Chechnya is being fought just across the frontier from Georgia, which is under constant pressure from Moscow.
That is by no means all. NATO also has plans to interfere in the conflict in the Dniester region. It is well known that almost 60 percent of the industrial enterprises of the former Moldavian SSR are located on the left bank of the Dniester River; their basic partners are Russian, and "peacekeeping forces" are present here. However, many countries of Europe are now attracted to economic cooperation with the Dniester region, and statements are increasingly being made that the Tiraspol regime is holding on only with the bayonets of Russian peacekeepers.
Lord Robertson recently boasted that "any person who was a witness to the dramatic changes in the sphere of security of the Euro-Atlantic region over approximately the last 15 years is convinced that reality has outpaced the boldest predictions." Yes, and all these "dramatic changes" pose a grave threat to Russia, which could be surrounded by foreign military bases all along its southern frontier. The US imperialists are becoming increasingly bold and insolent. NATO general secretary Lord Robertson visited Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan from May 14-16, receiving a warm reception in each capital. Azerbaijan and Georgia are pressing for NATO membership.
He was quoted as saying: "The Caucasus region is of crucial importance for the security of the whole Euro-Atlantic area." Earlier in Armenia, Robertson described the three Caucasus countries as being in the "vanguard of the opposition to 21st century threats," (according to a May 14 report by the Mediamax news agency).
This is an entirely novel interpretation of NATO's orbit. For the first time it is asserted that the Caucasus form part of the strategic Euro-Atlantic area. This makes absolutely no sense from a geopolitical point of view, but a lot of sense in terms of the imperialist ambitions and greed for oil of Washington. However, there are limits to NATO's ability to expand its security umbrella over the region. Russia has the advantage of geographical proximity, intimate knowledge of the region and many points of support.
In a recent article in Tribuna entitled "Terrorism Non-Stop" (May 14, 2003), Aleksey Kornilov comments: "Meanwhile, the NATO bloc itself is transforming without restraint. The new European members of the alliance are plainly drawn not to the European Union, but to the United States in political issues. It is this that has forced the leaders of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxemburg to come out with an initiative on mutual defense, for the same Iraqi events have shown that the current American leadership is ready to sacrifice all historically developed alliances for its security."
Recently Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking to students of the faculty of the Foreign Relations Institute at the Kyiv Taras Shevchenko National University, again criticized U.S. attempts to resolve the problem of Iraq forcefully and behind the UN's back: "We clearly see a trend towards building a unipolar system of international relations based on the logic of military dominance and unilateral actions bypassing the UN and international law. This trend has fully manifested itself and is continuing to affect things in the context of the dramatic developments of the Iraq crisis."
But after lamenting the fact - now so obvious to everybody - of the USA's crushing domination, Ivanov immediately changed his tune, offering an olive branch to Washington: "However, we do not take the view that different views on ways to settle such crises should lead to confrontation in international relations. A radical difference between the present situation and the Cold War times is that countries, as a rule, are not against each other but are against this or that option for solving international problems that affect the interests of the international community. The common ground in this is the desire to find an optimal solution to this problem."
The real meaning of this speech is as follows: we are opposed to you dominating the whole world and acting as if we did not exist. We protest energetically against this state of affairs. However, since you Americans now account for 37 percent of world arms expenditure, while our "free market" Russia only accounts for 6 percent, we cannot do much about it. And since we would like some more American investment, and since we wish to enter the WTO, and since we would like a quiet life, we promise not to cause you too many problems in the world, if only you will pay a little more attention to our opinions and not tread on our toes too hard in future.
Reading between the lines of this speech, it is not difficult to understand why Russia eventually voted for the Anglo-American resolution on Iraq in the Security Council. Unfortunately, there is much wishful thinking in Mr. Ivanov's speech. It presupposes something that cannot be presupposed - namely, that "the common ground in this is the desire to find an optimal solution to this problem." This is highly questionable. After their relatively quick and painless (for them) victory in Iraq, the US imperialists are in no mood to make concessions to Russia. On the contrary, this victory has greatly strengthened the most aggressive and belligerent faction in the Bush administration. Russia's capitulation in the Security Council will do nothing to soften the attitude of Washington. On the contrary: weakness invites aggression.
The Rumsfeld-Cheney-Wolfowitz clique is convinced that the USA is now all-powerful and unchallengeable. Moreover, they have concluded that the use of military might (or at least the threat of it) is the solution to all problems. They now believe that Russia is a paper tiger that can be more or less ignored. This fact opens the door for new adventures with explosive consequences. But the right wing Republican clique in the White House is extremely shortsighted. There are limits to everything. If Russia is pushed too far, it will be forced to respond, and it will undoubtedly be prepared to do this, rather than lose all its influence in areas in Central Asia and the Caucasus that have traditionally been under its sphere of influence.
However, before we reach this stage, it is probable that Putin will attempt yet again to arrive at some kind of compromise with Bush. That is what is implied in Ivanov's words. Significantly, in his state of the union address, Putin resisted the urge to attack America and Britain over Iraq. Subsequently Russia (and France) recognized the inevitable and voted for the Security Council resolution proposed by the USA and Britain. Some kind of a deal may be patched up over Iraq's huge debt to Russia, possibly even opening the way to Russia's entry into the WTO. But on the other hand, it may not. The antagonisms between Russia and America, like those between America and Europe, are like dangerous fault lines in world politics from which earthquakes can erupt at any time. New explosions are being prepared.